February 28, 2011

Funny Business—Work Life Balance in the Home Office

A bolt out of the blue—actually, an email from cyberspace—introduced us to Michael Kerr. He’s a recovering senior manager, as he puts it, and a top-10 speaker in Canada on funny business, as we put it. And he works at home. He offered to let us post some of his material here, and we thought you’d enjoy it. We do, and we’ll have a new one we can all enjoy every month.

The Not So Great Divide

For many people, it’s an enormous challenge trying to maintain a balance between their professional and personal lives. Imagine how hard it is for us folks who have brought our professional lives into the home. The line between work and home life can become pretty darn faint. Before long, we’re answering phone calls in the shower, pounding away on the lap top while whipping up a quiche, and showing up at important meetings dressed in our pajamas.

So how can we make sure our work life stays in the downstairs office and doesn’t ooze into the living room or conversely, our personal life doesn’t seep into our home office? Here are a few suggestions of things that have worked wonders for me:

• The most important rule is to set official office hours and post them on your office door, your fridge, your bathroom mirror, your T.V. set, beside your bed, in the garage, beside the stereo, inside all food cupboards, next to the couch, atop your golf clubs and anywhere else you can think off that might distract you from your work at hand during those above mentioned “official hours.” If that doesn’t do the trick, invest in a small home-office punch clock for when you begin and end personal time, and have your spouse sign off your “personal life time sheets” at the end of each week.

Commute around the block a few times at the start and end of each work day, ideally arriving at the opposite side (e.g., a back alley) of where you park your car. While not the most environmentally sensitive approach, I have found this to be the most effective way of providing a psychological break between your work and home life. It allows you to get dressed, pat the dog good-bye and boldly announce to your household “I’m off” each day in a confident manner. At the end of the day, the drive back to the front of your house lets you to stagger wearily through your front door and announce “Honey, I’m home”- a time-honored phrase that lets everyone know your work day is over and you deserve some peace, quiet, and perhaps a refreshing beverage.

Have family members, friends and neighbors refer to you as “sir”, “madam”, or “your presidency” during working hours. Introducing this simple formality into the work day let’s those around you know you mean business and if they wish to fraternize with you during work hours they better show you the respect you deserve. This approach can be tough on small children when, during working hours, you must in all good conscience tell them their Daddy or Mommy isn’t available to see them until 5:00 p.m., but in the long run it’s worth the trauma.

Use an article of clothing to help those around you (and yourself) tell when you truly are “on the job.” For myself, I didn’t want to opt for a tie, since one of the pleasures of working at home was escaping the regimented corporate look. Instead, I went for something with a little more flare – casual, yet official looking and still quite comfortable. Yes, a cape. When my cape is on, my family knows that “office hours” are in effect. For my “after business hours” look I simply remove the cape and throw on a baseball cap to send the message loud and clear – “I’m a guy looking for a little peace, quite, and perhaps a refreshing beverage.”

If you make the mistake of answering your business line after work hours, simply telling the caller that whoever they were looking for has “gone home for the day” seems to work sufficiently. If the caller is a client that recognizes your voice, tell them you are the sibling of the person they were looking for, and that “you get that a lot.” If a client comes to your door after work hours simply embellish the lie by telling them you are the identical twin of the person they were seeking.

If your spouse is also at home, phone them once a day from your business line and chat with them casually as though you are off somewhere hard at work. Ask how their day is going, what the weather is doing there and tell them when you think you’ll be done work and back home for the day. Ask them if they need you to pick up anything on the way home, and of course, tell them you miss them and how much you’re looking forward to coming home to a little peace and quiet, and perhaps, a refreshing beverage.

If you follow these simple guidelines, you will be amazed at how well-defined that line between work and home life can become, and how differently people begin to treat you (especially if your start wearing a cape).

Michael Kerr is the president of the Humour at Work Institute and the author of five books, including the best selling “You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humour to Work,” “Inspiring Workplaces”, and “What’s So Funny About Alberta?”. For humour at work books, tapes, articles and other resources, surf him up at www.mikekerr.com or reach Michael at 1-866-609-2640 or by e-mail at [email protected] .

Copyright Michael Kerr, 2011

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One Response to Funny Business—Work Life Balance in the Home Office

  1. [...] Work Life Balance in the Home Office: I wear the same thing daily, so the clue to my kids that I’m at work is sitting in my office. It works so well that on a Saturday, my son asked, “Why are you working?” [Link: Alan K'necht] [...]

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